In the lobby of a North Austin hotel, Almina Cook is eating an ice cream sandwich as she and two of her deputies listen to a salesman pitch them on a soon-to-hit-the-market voting machine. Along with hundreds of other election administrators from across Texas, Cook, the top election official in Hunt County, has come to this biannual conference to get briefed by state and federal officials and shop for machines and software. Vendors get to entice election officials with private demos, dinners and other freebies. This year is particularly important for Cook; she needs to replace the county’s 13-year-old machines, which have exceeded their recommended life cycle and require constant repair. But early in the salesman’s spiel, Cook makes one thing clear: She’s just window shopping for now.
Texas’ voting machines are deteriorating — and it’s not clear how the second-largest state in the country is going to pay for new ones.
Cook estimates that it would cost her small county northeast of Dallas around $1.2 million to upgrade voting machines. “All the counties have been put in a hard position to find money for new equipment,” she said. “And there’s no funds to help us.”
Local election administrators in Texas are eager to replace voting machines purchased more than a decade ago in time for the 2020 presidential election. Increasingly susceptible to malfunctions, upkeep for the aging machines can exceed $300,000 annually in the biggest counties. Election experts have also raised security concerns about the paperless electronic devices used in most of the state.